Here are a few reactions from some Catholic thinkers about Time magazine’s decision to select Pope Francis as Person of the Year.
The Time magazine writers reflect the sentimental spirit of the age: that there is nothing important about doctrine and discipline, but everything important about being nice and friendly. That Christians are often perceived as being legalistic, harsh and exclusive cannot be denied, but it is in the interests of the enemies of the Christian faith to exaggerate the alleged harshness of Pope Benedict XVI and Bl. Pope John Paul II while downplaying the tough words of Pope Francis.
There will be probably be a degree of blowback to the award in some Catholic circles among believers who get nervous when the world seems overly positive about the church. Their question always is, Do they really understand what we’re saying? Of course there’s a risk of simplification or caricature when the culture of celebrity takes over perceptions of religious leaders. That said, the question is which problem Catholics would wish their pope to have: deciding what to do with the world’s interest or struggling to acquire it in the first place? Most people would probably say that all things being equal, the first problem is by far the better one to have.
His public gestures – kissing disfigured visitors to the Vatican, lofting newborns with the endearing awkwardness of a non-parent, washing the feet of prisoners – may have been carefully staged, but they reveal the genuine character beneath the flowing white robes: Francis wants his church to serve, not strut. He has made his concern for the poor – and hailing from Latin America, Jo knows po’ – his keystone and, predictably, paid the price of being misconstrued. In Evangelii Gaudium, his first solo papal exhortation, Francis was widely quoted as deriding capitalist economies. Yet his complaint, a close reading would reveal, is that the pursuit of wealth, in and for itself, has become a competing religion. What parent in the now-infamous 1%, would not counsel his or her child that having money alone is not proof of success, but using it wisely is?
The world is gaga now over Pope Francis in part for of who he is, but it’s also the Obama Effect, ie, he ISN’T the last guy who had the job. Like Bush 43, Pope Benedict was so hated that people are projecting their wishful hopes for an anti-B onto his successor, facts be damned. Eventually, though, the world will get to know Francis, as it has Obama…and, for very different reasons, the honeymoon will be over.